Friday, 13 August 2010

The Number 91 Route

Crouch End to Trafalgar Square
Monday May 24th 2010

Unseasonably hot for May but we are NOT complaining…however the route from our previous bus was not nice enough to walk joyfully so we nipped briefly on an old friend – the Number 41 to get to the start of our key bus – the 91. They were in plentiful supply waiting sensibly in the shade before taking a turn round the roundabout (one of those small urban pimply things) to take on passengers. We were already half way along Crouch End Broadway and like many parts of the country the more you head uphill the better the outlook gets. Sometimes referred to as ‘the three wheeled pram hell’ that is Crouch End today’s passengers were quiet and purposeful until we hit the hotel and tourist belt further south.

Crouch End retains a few more independent shops and we were quite taken by ‘Pharmacia Naturale’ which sounded rather an exotic creation. More often than not it tends to be the hairdressers and beauty parlours that go in for the punning names but today we had the pleasure of the Thaitanic Restaurant… ‘The King’s Head’ is something of a refurbished pub but quite presentable nevertheless – we noticed the sign maker had gone for the King’s head off a deck of a cards rather than committing to a specific monarch…

What goes uphill must go downhill, and we thought we were probably passing the remnants of Highgate woods, those bits not built on. The local council have obviously tried to brighten up some of the flats by adding a new retro Thirties-style frontage – not sure it worked but it did show willing. As we headed downhill we glimpsed in the distance the top of the Emirates stadium, doubtless resting its grass for the next season. Not only do the Arsenal groundsmen seem to win more awards than the players, these days it seems they get poached for the transfer market....

Partly because of the one-way systems and partly through choice the 91 crossed several major routes and then settled southwards on to the Caledonian Road for most of its length. The shopkeepers round here seem pretty proud of their location as many outlets are pre-fixed with Caledonian in the shop name – e.g. the Caledonian Joinery. We have previously mentioned the cab drivers’ learning hot spot and the very asymmetric college building on the corner. One of the more decorative pubs is the Thornhill Arms though I gather the inside is not as pretty as the exterior. The cafĂ© opposite to Pentonville prison seemed to have the right idea.

The local resident tells me the Hinterland of King’s Cross, never pretty, is being regenerated as the Regent Quarter with new St Martin’s College moving here and the Canal Museum quite well settled – we had of course crossed the Grand Union shortly before it dives into its tunnel. Even those bits outside the designated zone show signs of refurbishment. Sir Williams Crookes Charity shop seemed one of a kind – Sir William himself was both a physicist and a chemist and made some excellent contributions to learning but then turned to Spiritism (not Spiritualism) which the shop hereabouts seems to raise funds for.

The bus had never been in a hurry and from here on it was very slow – no obvious roadworks or hazards, just volume of traffic and that includes the pedestrians who were totally filling the pavements from here to the end of the route, a combination of lunch-time fine weather and many tourists adding to the driver’s need to keep his speed down as we all know that pedestrians step randomly in front of any and all traffic. It’s not like you can’t see a bus coming?

After a brief foray along the Euston Road we turned down Woburn Place, passing St Pancras’ Church – very neo classical – then Tavistock and Russell Squares, the former bearing memorials to conscientious objectors and the latter to the victims of the July 2002 bombings. Both are fine open spaces, recently refurbished and well maintained, and provide a fine oasis for local students. This whole area is also stiff with hotels (the Russell Hotel featuring in ‘Cats’) and we guessed the Route 91 must be really popular with tourists who can catch it down to the Strand and Trafalgar Square. We were certainly not alone in taking up the front seats for photography but between the less than clean windows and reflections we’ve had better pix in our time.

There were a couple of blue plaques – Sir John Barbirolli, generally credited with founding, conducting and making famous the Halle orchestra, so here is a sample of him in action with some nice Hadyn oboe music. The next plaque was for W. Richard Lethaby – not known to us at all! He turns out to be the first principal of the Arts & Crafts college, now St. Martins’s and, as explained above, due to move from its Charing Cross and Holborn locations to the Regent Quarter.

More learning establishments on this route now come thick and fast, with the London School of Economics and as the bus swings round in front of St. Clement Dane’s to head towards it final destination it passes of course King’s College London – we love the parade of famous Alumni who fill the windows of the rather dull and functional Sixties block. The bus picked up speed and left us virtually opposite Whitehall with time to admire the new arrivals in Trafalgar Square – the Message in a Bottle on the 4th plinth only installed yesterday and the cricketing elephants.

Even with the bits of sightseeing the trip had only taken an hour and would be well recommended for any visitors coming into town from the north.

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